As humans live longer, they’re at increased risk of developing devastating NEURODEGENERATIVE diseases, such as Alzheimer’s—in a treatment landscape with few options and little hope. At Scripps Research, scientists are closer than ever to understanding how these diseases harm the brain and identifying possible drugs to stop them.
“This early preclinical work may identify proteins that protect against cognitive loss. We know it’s a long path to get to a drug, but we’re creating the foundation. We know there’s an entire landscape of potential molecular interactions that maintain healthy synapses, and any of these proteins could be a drug target.”— Hollis Cline, PhD
Your brain is keenly aware of what’s going on inside your body at all times. Some things are obvious – like when you feel hungry or thirsty. But some things you never notice – like how blood vessels all over your body simultaneously contract as you stand up, so you don’t lose blood flow to your brain. But how does your brain know when to send the signal to squeeze? It’s all part of concept scientists call interoception – the dialogue between your brain and the rest of your body.
Interoception is involved in everything from keeping us balanced while we walk, to keeping our blood pressure and heart rate steady. It even appears to influence our moods and emotions. And thanks to recent discoveries, we’re learning more about how interoception works. Researchers identified two special channels in neurons that react to touch and named them PIEZO1 and PIEZO2. Since first identifying these pressure sensors, researchers have found PIEZOs in internal organs like the heart, lungs, and blood vessels lining the stomach… suggesting many physiological functions involve mechanical forces that our brain and other parts of our nervous system must monitor and influence. As the study of interoception grows, scientists are hopeful the field could lead to breakthroughs in treating heart disease, controlling blood pressure, relieving anxiety and depression, and treating a number of other disorders. Learn more about Scripps Research at scripps.edu.
Who among us hasn’t wished we could read someone else’s mind, know exactly what they’re thinking? Well that’s impossible, of course, since our thoughts are, more than anything else, our own. Private, personal, unreachable. Or at least that’s what we’ve always, well, thought.
Advances in neuroscience have shown that, on a physical level, our thoughts are actually a vast network of neurons firing all across our brains. So if that brain activity could be identified and analyzed, could our thoughts be decoded? Could our minds be read? Well, a team of scientists at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has spent more than a decade trying to do just that. We started our reporting on their work 10 years ago, and what they’ve discovered since, has drawn us back.